Immigration advocates urge Biden to reconsider asylum policy

Advocates demonstrate on a sunny day in DC.
LGBTQ activists protest in Washington on February 23.

LGBTQ and immigrant rights advocates protested President Joe Biden’s administration last week after officials released what activists claim is the strictest asylum policy proposed since former president Donald Trump was in office.

The Departments of Homeland Security and Justice’a  153-page proposal in the Federal Register, which is now available for public comment, denies migrants seeking asylum in the US if they do not first seek asylum and get denied in each country they pass through to get to the US-Mexico border, with few exceptions. Asylum seekers must make an appointment using an app. They must have a valid or recently expired passport and a US-based sponsor.

Those who enter the US illegally will be deported to their home country and blocked from returning for five years.

“This will be a damning rule for LGBTQ people,” Immigration Equality Executive Director Aaron Morris said during a virtual press conference. Morris, who was honored with Gay City News’ Impact Awards in 2020, said the rule “strips” LGBTQ asylum seekers of their rights, subjects them to years of persecution, and “will literally cost the lives of LGBTQ refugees.”

He said it is unjust to require LGBTQ asylum seekers to ask for asylum in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and even Mexico, countries where citizens are fleeing for their safety due to violence against queer and transgender people.

“We have a moral obligation and the ability to grant asylum to this beautiful population of people and every time we do they bring to the United States innovation, creativity, [and] resourcefulness,” Morris said.

The Trump administration put a chokehold on the US asylum and refugee systems during his presidency. One of Trump’s most well-known policies was the Migrant Protection Protocols, commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) public health policy, Title 42, during the pandemic. Title 42 allows the US to expel and turn away people who have traveled through countries with communicable diseases that pose a public health risk.

The Supreme Court allowed the Biden administration to terminate the “Remain in Mexico” policy in May 2022. Title 42 remained while a legal battle reached SCOTUS, which was scheduled to hear the case March 1, according to the New York Times, but the hearing was cancelled without reason February 16. SCOTUS did not dismiss the case. Title 42 is set to expire May 11.

It appears the Biden administration now is tearing a page from Trump’s book with the new asylum policies introduced in January and this month. Biden’s administration already started implementing programs, announced January 5, to grant Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans humanitarian parole; implement the Customs and Border Patrol app, CBP One, for asylum seekers to make appointments; and expedite removal of migrants illegally crossing into the US.

LGBTQ and immigrant rights advocates state that the humanitarian parole program deal with Mexico breaks international, Mexican, and US asylum laws. The protest at the White House was organized by Welcome With Dignity, an immigration advocacy organization.

Ahead of the protest and publication of the proposed asylum policy, Welcome With Dignity held a joint press conference with the heads of American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Immigration Equality, and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to discuss the dangers of the policy.

The ACLU’s deputy director, Lee Gelernt, who successfully sued the Trump administration over other asylum policies and won, promised to challenge the new proposed rule if it goes into effect.

“We do not believe that the proposed rule is lawful in any way and intend to sue over it if it goes through,” Gelernt said.

Don’t come

Immigration advocates said the Biden administration’s proposed policy is a deterrent to encourage people to stay in their volatile home countries.

“We see those program policies being put in place as a way to say, ‘Don’t come,’” said Guerline Jozef, founder and executive director, Haitian Bridge Alliance, speaking to reporters during the Welcome With Dignity virtual press conference January 22. “That is, in essence, what the US government is telling people fleeing violence, rape, disasters, [and] political turmoil to do.”

Immigration advocates said that the policy will cost many thousands of migrants’ lives and warned that the policy could create a two-tiered system of the haves and have nots applying for asylum, especially once the app becomes the only way to make an appointment at the US-Mexico border. Those who have smart phones, high-speed Wi-Fi, and US sponsors will have a better chance than those who are poor and lack resources.

The recently released app compounds the issue. Immigration advocates on the ground, like Jozef, noted that the photo feature on the app doesn’t capture darker skinned people and said the app is plagued with issues of access and privacy.

Jozef said the “appalling asylum ban” makes “it impossible for Black, brown, indigenous, poor and underprivileged people to get refuge to get support to get safety.”

An unidentified administration senior official told CNN the CBP is presumably working to fix app issues.

Democratic lawmakers also expressed their disapproval of the Biden administration’s proposal. In a joint statement February 21, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, and Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement Subcommittee ranking member Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, criticized the administration.

“We are deeply disappointed in the Biden administration’s proposal to limit access to asylum,” they said. “The ability to seek asylum is a bedrock principle protected by federal law and should never be violated.”

So Trumpian

The Biden administration’s proposed policy is a far cry from his promises 0f undoing Trump’s policies in an executive order immediately after assuming office followed up by his blueprint for asylum less than six months later. Biden also placed LGBTQ rights as a key pillar of his administration globally, reversing many of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies and expanding LGBTQ rights by executive order.


On a separate press call with reporters February 21, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas denied that the Biden administration repackaged the Trump-era policies.

Mayorkas reiterated the administration prefers Congress to act “to update a very broken, outdated immigration system.”

The US asylum system was set up in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, according to the Washington Office on Latin America. US policy was the government would not deport migrants back to nations where they could be killed or persecuted based on race, religion, political beliefs or membership in particular social groups. In recent years, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status were added to the policy as protected vulnerable groups.

Gay City News reached out to the White House and the DHS and DOJ for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

“If President Biden goes forward with this rule, he might as well dismantle the Statue of Liberty with it,” said Bilal Askaryar, interim manager for Welcome With Dignity.